UNITED NATIONS – A week after North Korea's rocket launch, the U.N. Security Council on Monday condemned the action, demanded an end to missile tests and said it will expand sanctions against the reclusive communist nation.
The council's statement, agreed on by all 15 members and read at a formal meeting of the United Nations' most powerful body, said the launch violated a council resolution adopted after the North conducted a nuclear test explosion in 2006 that banned any missile tests by the country.
The statement was a weaker response than a U.N. resolution, which was sought by Japan and the United States but was opposed by China and Russia. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice insisted the statement is legally binding, just like a resolution, but other diplomats and officials disagreed.
North Korea warned earlier that any move to censure it at the U.N. could prompt its withdrawal from negotiations on dismantling the communist regime's nuclear weapons program. The North's talks with the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Russia are currently stalled.
In the statement, the Security Council expresses support for those talks and "calls for their early resumption." It also expresses the council's desire "for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the situation" and for efforts to achieve "the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the council's statement because it "sends a unified message of the international community on the recent launch," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.
She said Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, hopes the council's "response will pave the way for renewed efforts towards the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues in the region, including the early resumption of the six-party talks and the inter-Korean dialogue."
North Korea carried out the rocket launch in face of intense international pressure, saying it put a satellite in orbit as allowed under a U.N. space treaty. The U.S., Japan and South Korea claimed North Korea was really testing long-range missile technology, in violation of the 2006 Security Council resolution.
Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, the current council president, told reporters afterward the session that Monday's statement arose from what he called "a positive compromise" among all 15 council members.
The statement "condemns" the April 5 "launch" — without specifying whether it was a missile or a satellite — and demands that North Korea "not conduct further launches."
It adds that Pyongyang must fully implement the 2006 resolution ordering the North to suspend all ballistic missile activities and "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner."
In addition, the council said it "agrees" to expand sanctions under the 2006 resolution, which ordered a financial freeze on assets belonging to companies and groups tied to North Korean programs for nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction and banned the sale of specific goods used in those programs.
The statement says the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea is to report by April 24 on companies, equipment and technologies that should be added to the list. If the committee fails to act, the Security Council itself will then come up with a list by April 30, the statement says.
Citing an unidentified South Korean official, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Monday that about 10 North Korean companies probably would be blacklisted under expanded sanctions. Foreign Ministry officials were not available Monday evening to confirm the report.